Much like Midnight Madness selection Kill List before it, anthology series (V/H/S and Southbound) collaborator David Bruckner's debut feature film The Ritual is a subgenre-mashing horror that will leave a lasting impression long after it's over.
Part Blair Witch, part The Wicker Man, the supernatural thriller — starring Rafe Spall, Robert James-Collier, Arsher Ali and Sam Troughton — tells the tale of four 30-something lads who decide to traverse the trails of Northern Sweden's highlands in honour of their fallen friend (who was murdered in a liquor store robbery gone bad during one of their previous nights out on the town).
Things take a strange and surreal turn once the crew of hikers decides to take their chances by cutting through some nearby woods after they're forced to cut their trip short due to an injury.
Bombarded by rain, they take refuge in a boarded up cabin filled with eldritch markings and what appears to be the remnants of witchcraft. Soon, the foursome is stalked by a bizarre creature in the woods that seems to ravage any creature that crosses its path, hoisting the mangled bodies into nearby treetops. Also, one of the guys, Luke (Spall), is overcome by haunting dreams from the night of the robbery (he was there when his friend died, but couldn't find the courage to fend off the thugs).
Acclaimed cinematographer Andrew Shulkind gives this creepy camping horror a crisp and clean look, adding depth to the film's slow zooms and steady shots through the trees, heightening the definition of the setting's lush foliage. It all adds to the impending sense of dread (this year's It Comes at Night used the untamed outdoors to a similar effect).
Whether the film is truly terrifying or simply scary, that all depends on how you handle creature features. (What ends up lurking in the woods is rendered well by designer Keith Thompson, but it's hard not to feel like a bit too much is given away by movie's end.)
Nevertheless, The Ritual is a suspenseful horror flick that, although not entirely breaking new ground, deals with its subject matter in a fun, foreboding and stylish way.